Senior Blue and White member: Party backs 2 states to separate from Palestinians

Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid, who helped draft party’s election platform, says Netanyahu missing ‘historic opportunity’ for regionally backed peace

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

MK Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid, one of three authors of the Blue and White party’s campaign platform, said Thursday the party would work to spearhead a “regional process” that would enable Israel to “separate from the Palestinians” and lead to the formation of “two states” — in the first clear statement of support for the two-state solution by a senior party official since its formation.

Blue and White is an alliance of three political parties, Israel Resilience, Yesh Atid and Telem, running to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. It leads Likud in recent polls, though it is not yet clear whether it could gather enough backing in the Knesset to form a coalition.

On Wednesday the party released its long-awaited political platform. It included support for a “united” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, continued Israeli control over the Jordan Valley, and retaining settlement blocs in the West Bank, along with a willingness to enter negotiations with the Palestinians.

It did not explicitly support Palestinian statehood. However, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid reiterated support in principle for a two-state solution at a Times of Israel event on Wednesday night.

In an interview with Army Radio Thursday, Shelah said: “Blue and White will lead to a regional process, taking advantage of a historic opportunity that lies before us to do two things: One, it will address Israel’s place in the Middle East, something no less important [than the conflict with the Palestinians] because the Middle East is being reshaped before our eyes, and we and those partners who share our interests aren’t part of that; two, it will rescue the process of separation from the Palestinians from the impasse it’s in now, and advance it toward separation from the Palestinians.”

While Blue and White’s leader Gantz has spoken only in vague terms about what end result he seeks in his bid to separate from the Palestinians — and rival Netanyahu has seemed to back several different end results at different times — Shelah was adamant in the interview that separation would mean a Palestinian state in a large part of the West Bank.

The regionally backed process toward separation, he said, “will bring, in the end, to two states because there’s no other way to bring about the separation from the Palestinians.”

Blue and White party leaders Benny Gantz, left, and Yair Lapid, right, at the new alliance’s unveiling in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

He accused Netanyahu of missing a “historic opportunity” over the past eight years for such a regional agreement.

“Before our eyes, for eight years we’ve seen this one-time historic opportunity laid out before us… and Benjamin Netanyahu is missing the opportunity.”

The lack of movement is bad for Israel’s security, he said. It’s what “brought us to the humiliating situation in Gaza, where Hamas is driving the reality and decides whether there’s a war or not, and also ensures that the process of separating from the Palestinians is completely stuck, including from the Palestinian side.”

On Sunday, Gantz told party activists in an off-the-record gathering surreptitiously recorded by Channel 12 that major settlement blocs would not be evacuated in any deal with the Palestinians, but said he nevertheless sought ways to separate from the Palestinians and believed any agreement should be put to a national referendum.

“We don’t want to control the Palestinians, or any of the things that will turn the state into a binational state. We will find the arrangement that gives security,” he promised.

Asked about the future of the settlements and a possible Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, he said, “Much of the settlement [project] will be developed far more than it is today” under a Blue and White government. “And if it becomes relevant, we’ll discuss what we do after that. And even that we’ll take to a referendum. In other words, it isn’t something that will be relevant tomorrow morning, if at all.”

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